Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting to grips with history

As I continue to settle in to life in Cambodia things are becoming slightly: I have extended me vocabulary to "how much does that cost?" and "sir/madame". Hopefully by the end of the week I will know all of 8 words! I'm also much more accustomed to crossing the road, which I thought may never happen given my constant fear of being run over in the UK.

So, yesterday I ventured out to the provinces with Vy, she took me to Rudi Boa a school there which had been funded in memory of a previous volunteer. In the school I was also told the story about a 6 year old pupil who was having to take care of both his siblings as their parents worked in the city 45 minutes away. The province where the school was and where people were living was like a block of garages: one room, 3 walls, with occasionally a smaller room at the back. There was no door, only a sliding gate, which had been replaced with wood or other materials in the occupied houses. Going into the "centre" there was a market as well as a pharmacy and some other places to buy food: this community was self sufficient, buying and selling to one another. Around every school I had been so far people seemed happy, was this what it seemed like to me, were people actually dismal or did they just not know that they deserved any better?

This morning I visited the Genocide Museum (also known as office 21 during the "Kampuchea Democratic"), which chronicled many of the events and peoples lives during the Khmer Rouge. The museum was very graphic, there were 4 buildings in Office 21 one of which was used for torturing the prisoners and the other 3 which were used for detention. In each room there where photos which had been taken, some of the dead prisoners as well as others of families killed by the Khmer Rouge. There were skulls of prisoners where you could see large cracks where prisoners had been electrocuted or had received blows, building B was surrounded by barbed wire to stop the detainees from trying to kill themselves. In each room in Building A the beds and other machines used to torture people suspected of opposition remained, as well as pictures and photos illustrating the uses of each instrument. The whole place was very grim and I didn't feel at ease that this had happened less than 40 years ago, furthermore that tribunals were still ongoing to bring the people who committed these atrocities to justice. As I left the museum there where beggars who were missing limbs and that had been severely burnt waiting for tourists at the exit. The whole experience was pretty depressing and an explanation for the poverty which was all around and which I had seen since I arrived began to make sense.

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